WASHINGTON—Citing the growing importance of “homegrown” terrorism, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that “in some ways, the threat facing us is at its most heightened state” since attacks on 9/11.

Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman talks with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in the Oval Office, Sept. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

While terrorist groups abroad are still active and significant, she said al-Qaeda’s ideology poses a new threat from its followers in the United States.

“These groups are also trying to inspire individuals in the West to launch their own, smaller-scale attacks, which require less of the advanced planning or coordination that would typically raise red flags,” Napolitano said in her testimony. “The logic supporting these kinds of terrorist plots is simple: They present fewer opportunities for disruption by intelligence or law enforcement than more elaborate, larger-scale plots by groups of foreign-based terrorists.”

Napolitano, joined by National Counterterrorism Director Michael Leiter before the House Committee on Homeland Security, referenced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged “Christmas day bomber,” and Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, as examples of homegrown violent extremism. Napolitano said sharing information throughout the various intelligence agencies, as well as state and local law enforcement is crucial.

“Because state and local law enforcement are often in the best position to first notice the signs of a planned attack, our homeland security efforts must be interwoven in the police work that state, local, and tribal officers do every day,” Napolitano said. “We must make sure that officers everywhere have a clear understanding of the tactics, behaviors, and other indicators that could point to terrorist activity.”

The Homeland Security Department runs a number of programs with local law enforcement, including joint investigative task forces, information and intelligence clearinghouses and a combined federal, state and local effort to track suspicious activity.

“We are coordinating an interagency planning effort to address domestic radicalization,” Leiter said in his testimony. “Where appropriate, NCTC is also helping support and coordinate the federal government’s engagement with American communities where terrorists are focusing their recruiting efforts.”

While Leiter says that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is “at one of its weakest points in the past decade,” al-Qaeda remains “a very determined enemy,” especially in the Arabian Peninsula. Anwar la-Aulaqi, a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen and leader within al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is currently considered one of the most significant risks to the United States and, according to Leiter, his “familiarity with the West and his operational role in AQAP remain a key concern.